So how is the HIMYM crew going to get Barney into relationship mode, you ask? Straightforwardly, I answer. The premise for this week's episode is that in order to turn from a philandering cad into boyfriend material, Ted enrolls him in a night class: Robin Scherbatsky 101. But it's a sham. Not much is going on with the Robin-Barney storyline except a recognition that he's approaching this one differently, and we knew that already. Nothing's going on with the masterplot (except that we learn another Dad Ted euphemism: thumbs up replaces the finger).
What this episode is all about — to my great delight — is The List. Has any sitcom ever embraced the comic possibilities of listmaking as thoroughly as HIMYM? Sure, Seinfeld was sort of one multi-season megalist of inexplicable nothings that consume our waking hours. Yes, many other shows have exploited lists for an episode or two. But as a dedicated fan of lists as rhetorical devices, I get giddy whenever HIMYM builds an episode around a list, or several lists. Here there are lists within lists, flashbacked, read out of notebooks, written on chalkboards, assembled through Powerpoint, merely alluded to offhandedly and then discarded. My friends, it was glorious.
And how else can I celebrate but with an enumeration of said lists — a list of lists, if you will allow me the delicious meta-moment?
- Names Barney has been called: jerk, bastard, Barack Obama, Jr.
- Things not to do around Robin: Mention hockey's surprising lack of popularity in the U.S., cry, surprise her, show her a YouTube featuring an animal playing a musical instrument
- Topics that will distract Robin: The Vancouver Canucks' 2004 division title, proper gun cleaning and maintenance, emperor penguins ("silly penguins acting all fancy!")
- The six simple words Robin wants from her dad: Robin I'm proud of you eh.
- Other sitcom I saw this week that featured a Dead Poets Society reference: Community
- Unsurprising Robin Scherbatsky non-erogenous zones: left knee, right knee
- Ted's record for crying in front of Robin in the same night: four times (the third time occurring when she punched him after he took a picture of her angry face)
The secondary gag involved Marshall trying to give away Mabel, the barrel he used as a bedside table after college "until we found out Lily is allergic to barrel resin." He puts it on the sidewalk in front of Ted's apartment where the gang puts everything they want to get rid of, a spot known as the Bermuda triangle, then watches eagerly from the window while … nobody takes it. A slender joke at best, but it gives Marshall a chance to say "barrel resin." And Ted gets some confidence for his class by practicing on Barney, who turns out to be a tough student ("Can we have class outside?" he requests ad nauseum; "I've gotta reach this kid!" muses Ted). But that's all just window dressing for the Triumph of the List. It would be a betrayal of my deepest aesthetic principles to give this episode anything but …
- OK, I have some principles other than an irrational love of lists. I'm knocking it down half a letter grade for lack of emotional resonance. But the listmaking center of my brain is screaming in protest.
- The one-night stand is a Barney habit that's hard to break; half-asleep with Robin, he instinctively assembles pillows and a basketball into a Barneyesque shape under the covers, gets half-dressed and opens the window for a getaway.
- Lily's Robin crush continues; she refers to Robin as friend, confidante, and "occasional guest star in confusing dreams that remind me that a woman's sexuality is a moving target."
- Turns out Ted did have a sledgehammer around the apartment for busting open Barney's briefcase.
- Reactions to the discovery of the notebook: Robin — "These are notes about me … or some 29-year-old version of me!" Marshall — "What are you guys doing with Barney's secret Robin notebook? Let me rephrase that; did you two ladies lose some weight?"
- That's a Sharp data projector in Ted's classroom; I'd know that "Turn projector off? Press STANDBY again for Yes" message anywhere.
- "Just … the best barrel."